Fast fashion is a popular term used to describe an exploitative and highly lucrative multi-million dollar industry, typified by mass-produced low-cost garments and patterns, often replicating high-class and international fashion trends. The term ‘fast fashion’ is often used in conjunction with other terms such as ‘designers’ or ‘imitation clothing’. Such a broad classification might appear to suggest that fast fashion is a generic term, when in reality it is extremely specific to the fashion industry.
Fast fashion has been around since the early nineteen thirties but it was not until the late nineteen eighties that major Western retailers began to regularly sell clothes on the basis of the quickly-catchup fashion trend. This led to a situation whereby many consumers could buy the same clothes, at very low prices, saving significant sums of money on buying other fashionable clothes.
At the start, these same retailers sold their clothes in bulk, reducing their profit margins and increasing their competitive advantage. As the industry developed it became possible for smaller retailers to offer cheaper, more efficient clothing to customers. This was the beginning of the rise of boutique shopping and the retail market share of smaller shops which, of course, increased with the success of this trend.
As new trends came along, retailers tried to capitalise on them by launching their own versions of these new products, using the term ‘new style’ to distinguish their product from the rest of the pack. What is fast fashion? is largely dependent upon the type of product that is being targeted. High-end, designer clothing might be classed as ‘fast fashion’, as it is typically targeted towards a niche audience.
But the underlying principle is the same, because the core elements of what is fast fashion are also present within the textile supplies chain. What is fast is determined by the speed at which textiles are produced and woven together. And microfibres represent the overall production volume of the textile, including the amount of energy that goes into producing each individual fibre.
Fast fashion, then, is not so much about the latest trends that appear in fashion magazines or on store shelves. Nor is it just about showing off what retailers have to offer by producing the most innovative and stylistic clothes on the market. It is much deeper than that. What is fast fashion actually about the successful management of the textile supply chain? The answer, in short, is about the relationship between supply chain management and the evolution of new designs that are trendy and attract a specific consumer group.
The relationship between manufacturers and retailers plays a crucial role in the development of what is fast fashion. It helps to create a positive image of high quality goods at affordable prices, leading to a boom in sales for both sides. However, the failure of manufacturers to comply with international trade rules can seriously damage the reputation of both parties and lead to expensive penalties and legal actions. The increasing use of sweatshops in China for textile manufacture is one such case where the rise of counterfeit or substandard products has led to serious conflict between the two sides.
If we take a closer look at what is fast fashion, we will see that its emergence is intimately connected to developments in the global labor market. Because micro fibers are highly competitive in terms of price, designers have to introduce new, more inexpensive materials, altering the strategies that they use in their production process as well as the nature of their business.
This leads to greater levels of innovation, creativity and flexibility, all of which can translate into lower prices, better design and better, more unique products on the market. It has been proven time and again that increased flexibility leads to a higher rate of profit and lower losses.
But it is only when manufacturers have made a real effort to reduce overheads that they have been able to successfully address the declining rate of profit and improve cash flow. To tackle the issue of what is fast fashion, clothing retailers must adopt supply chain management strategies that will enable them to respond quickly and effectively to fluctuating consumer demand and price movements.
In China, this means understanding where to buy cheap bulk materials from and how to negotiate with suppliers at retail price. It also means improving efficiency in the supply chain, by speeding up order processing and improving warehouse capacity utilization.
Acknowledging the value of fast innovations and flexible supply chains, many clothing retailers in China have already started to make use of modern technology to speed up the process of communication between the customer and the manufacturer. This has allowed them to respond quickly to consumer demands, providing an attractive niche in the global fashion industry.